Despite changes within the Transportation Security Administration that have left the agency without a General Aviation Branch manager, Administrator John Pistole pledged to continue to work with industry on initiatives to improve access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Speaking before the general session at the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Las Vegas Oct. 22, Pistole conceded that the security requirements have not been “user friendly,” and cites the requirement for an armed security officer as an example. But he adds that he hopes to see some positive movement on the issue.
Charlie LeBlanc, chairman of NBAA’s Security Council and vice president of security services for FrontierMEDEX, notes that the council has been making strides on the ASO requirements “We’re starting to get traction with TSA,” he says, adding there have been “good talks.”
LeBlanc calls the requirement a significant barrier to use of the airport. LeBlanc estimates that should the ASO issue be resolved, traffic into DCA could double or triple. He does say traffic in the past few years has improved, but is “nowhere near pre-9/11 levels.”
He adds that with his role at FrontierMEDEX he understands the importance of careful security measures for business aircraft operations. But LeBlanc says even he’s not comfortable with the Secret Service-driven requirement. Most companies do not want to send an armed person who may be a stranger on board with their executives, LeBlanc notes. That stranger’s sole job could be to shoot those executives if they were perceived to be a threat.
The industry has gathered a fair amount of data about travel into DCA, and the use of ASOs, he says, and adds there are “myriad different solutions” to the ASO requirement. But while TSA has collaborated – officials have stated publicly that the ASO is one issue they were looking at to improve access to DCA – turnover continues. TSA’s currently without a manager of its General Aviation Branch, a position formerly held by Kerwin Wilson. Wilson said earlier this year he hoped to see changes in the ASO requirement by year-end.
Along with the lack of a manager focused on general aviation issues at the TSA, the Secret Service remains another potential stumbling block. The agency has been skeptical to any changes in the DCA security program.